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26


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 26, April 15, 1997

The One Thing Guaranteed to Work

By Don L. Tiggre
don-tiggre@utah-inter.net

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         I love talking to people about the freedom philosophy, but it has its challenges. Those who are just discovering it are so excited, the whole world seems like a more wonderful place, brimming with possibilities! In contrast, seasoned conservatives, who often understand the economic aspects of the freedom philosophy, have a depressingly grim outlook. Seasoned (so-called) liberals, who often understand the personal aspects of the freedom philosophy, have a depressingly hysterical outlook. Even libertarians, who often understand the freedom philosophy well, have a depressingly hopeless outlook. It's like pulling teeth trying to convince many "seasoned" political observers that they are -- in fact -- free and that they can exercise their freedom. Convincing them that a stable and free society is possible and perhaps even likely is harder than trying to talk a traffic cop out of a ticket.
         So, I've come up with one thing I can suggest to even the most cynical people that is guaranteed to make the world a better place. It is this: teach your children freedom. More specifically: teach your children that they are free, and that no one has a right to hurt them, control them, or to take that which is theirs. Help them to grow up to be healthy individuals, self-aware of their free nature. A free society is composed of free individuals; the former cannot come into being without the latter. If you don't have children, this idea can be applied to nieces, nephews, students, and even employees; anyone to whom you become a mentor.
         Almost everything in the Liberty Round Table web-site and other sources of political thought pertains to adults, trying to teach the freedom philosophy to people, many of whom have already accepted their serfdom. It is much easier to help children keep the sense of freedom and excitement they all seem born with, than to try to convince adults that the eternal slave-like existence so many have accepted is an illusion.
         Being a single parent of three rambunctious boys, I know how very difficult a thing it is that I am urging here. Children who are aware that -- being human -- they have rights can be a total pain in the ass. Completely inconvenient. Impossible to get in the &^@%#@#!!! car when it's time to go. Believe me, I know!!!
         However, compared to my sons' well-being, my convenience is a very small concern. I am not saying that this is easy, just easier than trying to re-educate adults.
         It always amazes me that a parent who will stand in the rain for days collecting signatures for a ballot initiative (because, say, their freedom has been infringed by a government that claims to know what is best for them) will turn around and force their children to eat spinach because "it's good for them."
         Huh???
         Does anyone else see the contradiction here?
         I am totally unimpressed by claims about kids being different. Of course they are! But, they are not that different. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, a person is still a person, no matter how small. If human rights exist at all, then surely children must have them too!
         Therefore... I do not use force as a parenting tool. I don't force my children to do anything, not even to eat or go to school. I try very hard to reason with my sons, to give them reasons for cooperating with me, and because I have allowed their experience to show that I am usually right. Perhaps this is why they choose to negotiate instead of fight and they choose to go to school while I go to work.
         When I say such things, many parents recoil in horror. Their many protestations usually boil down to two errors: they think I let my boys run our house (which would lead to chaos!) and they think that children will not "do the right thing" in most cases (unless compelled to do so by a central authority).
         The uncanny resemblance these arguments bear to the excuses of statist apologists is horrifying.
         To the first I answer that my house is my property. I bought it, and everyone who lives here knows it. The significance of this may not be immediately apparent, but you have to understand that my boys understand the notion of private property. Their entire lives have been spent in an environment wherein everyone's property was respected, including their own. Yes, I even let them do things I consider "bad," like destroying a brand new toy, if such is their choice. So, when I say that because I don't want food smashed into the living room carpet (and remind them about germs) and that they have not yet learned eat without getting food on the floor regularly, I will not allow dinner in the living room, they understand and accept. They know that I have the right to make rules governing the use of my property, such as the living room carpet, and they understand that I've good reasons for my rules.
         Some people think my sons are very obedient, but that's not it; they are reasonable. But to get to this point, I've had to be reasonable with them, giving them reasons, being patient with their questions, and respecting their authority to make rules governing the use of their own property. I even ask them for permission before entering their rooms, which I have given them full ownership of, with the exceptions of not doing things that threaten the structural integrity of the rest of the house, or the safety of others within the house.
         To the second, I answer that children are not stupid, merely inexperienced. The best way to encourage the growth of wisdom within them is to let them gain experience! To try to shove my experience down their mental throats is not only inconsistent with my view of the proper way for people to treat each other, it also just plain doesn't work very well.
         My boys, ages 9, 7, and 5, bathe regularly and shampoo their hair. They do their own laundry. They choose to dress warmly when it is cold out. They earn money washing dishes and doing other chores. They can even catch a bus on time, on their own. Even more important, to me, is that they can almost always determine the right and wrong of their actions. They don't always act accordingly -- who does -- but they can tell the difference and usually do the right thing.
         They are not, however, angels. I probably pull my hair out as much as anyone else, but the problems I typically have with them are different from those of most parents I encounter. For example, it is extremely rare for one of my sons to deliberately strike one of his brothers. They also never knowingly take something that is not theirs, unless they think they've made arrangements to use it. No, the problems I have are different. They enter into verbal contracts (e.g. "I'll pick up the floor in the living room if you will vacuum it," or "I will give you this toy car for three of those Tootsie Rolls," or "I'll rent you my sleeping bag for two pieces of gum) with one-another without defining the terms carefully, or one alleges that he meant something else when he made or accepted an offer. Another problem is that they accept promises from people who have no right or ability to keep them. Also, they will use an absolutely incredible amount of pure genius to execute a plan that is nothing short of colossally stupid. They are extremely impulsive. But... They are children. They learn from every scraped shin, from every failed negotiation. And, in spite of the problems, they are extremely warm and trusting.
         I try to help them. When one of my boys approaches me with an emotional or physical hurt, I hug and kiss, and after they're feeling a bit better, I ask: "What do you learn from this?" It would be a cruel thing, in my opinion, to fail to highlight opportunities for learning in every painful incident. It would be a cruel thing to let them make the same mistakes over and over, when it is in their power to learn to avoid them. Once the subtleties have been pointed out -- they usually don't need the obvious lessons pointed out -- they usually feel much better because they feel competent to deal with similar situations in the future.
         The point I am trying to make here is that each child's own experience carries much more weight with them than the experiences shared by others, even highly trusted others. By trying to force children to do the right things, we commit the same errors and get largely the same results that the state gets when it tries to force people to be charitable, or to shield the foolish from the consequences of their actions.
         The art of successful parenting, then, must lie in using every resource available to create a series of environments where children can learn in safety. Short of life threatening situations, I do not use force to overrule the will of my children, because nothing is more important to me than for them to grow up understanding their individual sovereignty. If a situation arises wherein a child endangers his or her life and I use force to overrule their will as the only way to save them, then it is I who has failed. Dying is worse than being coerced, of course, but I can't let that become an excuse; it's too short a step from there to begin justifying coercion in non-life threatening circumstances. Instead, I define coercion as wrong, with no exceptions, try like hell not to let it happen, and admit my fault when I allow things to come to such a point.
         This rule I struggle to abide by is hard. It has caused me to be late for work, to miss movies, to pay for things my sons have broken, and to endure situations in public places that would be embarrassing to most people. But I do it anyway. These are prices I decided to accept before -- with deliberate and with joyful cooperation -- I started the life process of my first son.
         Now, back to politics: I challenge anyone to find a more potent way to end the ability of some people to rule over others than to bring into the world people who will not be ruled. My nine year old has stood up to his school principal before and even a traffic cop! He doesn't hesitate to argue with his teachers about biodiversity. My seven year old took on his whole class when he was in kindergarten, over the Santa Claus Conspiracy (among adults). My five year old has no fear of telling me that I am wrong. Just try to imagine these boys growing up to say, "sure, take 90% of my paycheck in taxes, what right have I to keep what I earn?"
         Mind you, I try very hard not to let my ideas become a religion for my sons. I encourage them to question me, to insist on evidence. I am not raising my children in this way in an effort to forge them into soldiers for the Glorious Freedom Revolution. I do what I do because I love them and I treat them as I would have them treat me: with respect for their Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Property.
         This is nothing more nor less than how I think all people should treat each other.
         I will feel successful as a parent if my boys grow up to be healthy, happy, and free adults who know that they must respect these same things in others. It is also true that if I succeed at this, I will have contributed concretely and significantly to the world we live in.
         This is a sure thing: whatever else happens, the world will be a better place for having more such people in it!


Don L. Tiggre is a grant-writer and a would-be author of fiction. He lives with his three sons, who teach him daily lessons in effective ways to resist tyranny. Having just barely survived 16 years of 'education', Mr. Tiggre is doing his best to study the human animal in it's natural habitats.


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